- Rahul Puri has been associated with Apple and LG Electronics as their national sales head (India) in the past
- He currently heads Sterlite Tech as sales head for India and APAC region
Rahul Puri (RP), ex-national sales head, Apple and LG Electronics India, in an exclusive conversation with EFY Group, shed light on his 15 years+ journey in the consumer electronics industry. He also spoke at length about the changing market dynamics and sales strategies.
“Despite having the upper hand, it is not going to be a joy ride for the offline retailers. They will have to evolve with technology, learn how to use it to connect with consumers. A lot of offline retailers often complain about advancements in technology. They should always remember that it is these advancements that are driving the business and revenue in the consumer electronics industry,” noted RP.
He added, “I remember a line that one of my former CEOs used to quote all the time – A salesman should never feel the need to carry his resume, his market should always talk like his resume!”
ACE – How was your experience of being associated with LG India and Apple India as their national sales head?
RP – Consumer Electronics industry is one of the most exciting ones to be a part of, in India. As a matter of fact, it is not only India’s but one of the world’s highest revenue generating industries. The last fifteen years have been phenomenal for the ACE industry in India.
Be it the boom of personal devices, or that of gadgets, or smart devices, signs clearly indicate that we are headed in the right direction. In fact, while being associated with Apple and LG, I have seen many new brands entering and many quitting.
Many new challengers from India and abroad came in. We got opportunities to frame new strategies, implement them, in order to stay on the top. Be it brands from America, Korea, Japan or China, I learned and taught my team to face the challenges bang on.
In a nutshell, it’s been a blend of a roller-coaster ride and excitement for me. Something that I am going to cherish for the rest of my life!
ACE – What were the biggest challenges that you faced? How did you overcome them?
RP – The fact that I was associated with two international brands presented me with two big challenges – creating a space for these brands in India and helping these brands understand India. I am of the view that India does not represent 29 different states, but 29 different countries! So, the approach, the strategies must be different for all these states!
A lot of brands see India as a country with 1.3 billion people. This fact, as per such brands, gets boiled down to billions and trillions in market opportunity on a platter. However, that’s not even remotely true! Yes, our country is a big market but the approach that a brand takes towards it spells the way forward.
Brands also forget that if one of them sees an opportunity in India, others can also! This creates a challenge to stay ahead of your competitors and it requires more than 29 approaches.
The second challenge is also an opportunity, and it revolves around the Indian consumers. I must start explaining this opportunity cum challenge with the fact that consumers in India are one of the most informed and intelligent ones in the world.
If, as a brand, you think of India as a market awaiting your arrival on a platter, you are wrong. Another misconception, I would like to address here is how brands approach India, thinking of Indian consumers as hungry for cheap products. We, as consumers are well informed and hence, we know the value of money while investing it. The price, a product is launched in the consumer electronics domain, should justify the quality.
ACE – Coming to your forte, what separates a great offline sales professional from a good sales professional?
RP – Sales is neither an art nor a science. It is a mix of both. What separates the two is the keenness to learn and adopt. It is an art of managing relationships and the science of managing channels.
You should be open to change irrespective of the fact how hard it needs you to train. While field visits are a must, you should be able to do sales sitting in your cabin.
I remember a line that one of my former CEOs used to quote all the time – A salesman should never feel the need to carry his resume, his market should always talk like his resume!
ACE – A lot of industry heavyweights have reported dips in profits and revenues. Do you think this is the aftermath of new brands covering more ground in India? What about the role that channels have played?
RP – My answer is a mix of yes and no! These yes and no are synonyms of short- and long-term goals. In the short term, owing to the super-aggressive marketing and promotions by new brands, the challenges get multiplied for the heavyweights.
However, in the long term, I don’t think the industry heavyweights have anything to be worried about at all. If you closely analyse their balance sheets, you will find out that they are pumping in a lot of money in the research and development of new products. I think that is a clear indication that the heavyweights see a lot of potential in the future and they are not afraid of doing research and development.
On the other hand, only a few of the new brands are doing the same in research and development. Instead, they are spending huge on marketing. This is the trait that distinguishes experience from amateur approach and being naive.
In a nutshell, the future of the ACE market in India will only be kind to serious brands. The basic laws of the consumer electronics industry state that not all brands can thrive, no matter how big the market size is!
ACE – If a struggling heavyweight consumer electronics brand consults Rahul Puri, and wants his help in improving sales strategy to take on the new brands, what will be your message?
RP – First and foremost I will encourage them to not deviate from the path they have chosen. The difference between a heavyweight and a new brand, is almost the same as there is in an established company and a start-up. Though, the start-up culture is fantastic to work in, it is usually not there in a big brand’s DNA to work on the same principles as a start-up.
As a big brand, if you really want to make new plans, then make sure they start around product development but does not deviate from the long-term approach that you have already been following. Yes, do add a tactical short-term plan, and mix it with a small pinch of intelligent marketing.
Also, instead of trying to copy a start-up, start forging new strategies and improving existing ones. Most of heavyweights incorporate teams that are a mix of young and old blood. Both should get equal say in chalking out strategies.
Don’t go aggressive just because a new brand is being aggressive towards you. Rather go aggressive towards building a better connect with your audience, go aggressive in making sure that your product portfolio is better than ever!
Always remember the old saying that it is not the fast that wins the race but the steady that does. I remember this dialogue from a Hollywood movie based on snipers that I quote often – slow is smooth and smooth is fast!
ACE – Which channel should the focus be on for the long-term business plans?
RP – In a growing market like India, there is space for everyone. At the same time there cannot just be one winner. Five to 10 years down the line, the offline channel will continue to play a significant role in the success of consumer electronics brands.
The importance of online and omni-channel will also increase with time. In fact, I firmly believe that all the three channels will start evolving from now. These will be more connected than ever. Whether you are a small retailer or a big brand, you will need to go to your consumer. Strategies like box-selling and counter-selling will exist but it’s the evolved forms of retailing that will take their place in the majority of situations and markets.
Remember the time when large format stores came in, a lot of people from the industry then had anticipated that small retailers and offline channel partners will lose value. And what’s the scenario now? Everyone knows that it’s impossible to tap markets in India without having these small retailers as your partners and end-point sellers.
However, it is not going to be joy ride for the offline retailers as well. They will have to evolve with technology, learn how to use it to connect with consumers. A lot of offline retailers often complain about advancements in technology. They should always remember that it is these advancements that are driving the business and revenue of consumer electronics industry.
ACE – What are your views on IoT aka smart features embedded consumer electronics? Do you think this category requires a separate sales strategy than the normal consumer electronics? Which channel will play a bigger role in terms of these?
RP – The initial approach will have to be different. Think of these products on the same lines as smartphones. When smartphones were introduced as a new category, brands had to assign trained professionals to almost every major offline retailer they had a presence at.
Why? Because it is important for people to experience a new product first. The investment in a product depends on the kind of experience a person has had with the same. IoT, or as the industry calls it, smart consumer electronics, would need to be demonstrated on a large scale.
This is one more vertical where the channel will have to come out in complete support of the brands. Brands will need to complement the efforts made by the channel and vice-versa. The only thing that makes a new category a hit or a miss is the experience associated with it and its channel partners that can facilitate this experience on behalf of you to consumers.
The opportunity related to the IoT enabled devices is big. As you get a taste of a smart device, you want to experience more. Then you want all your devices to be connected to each other. But the catch would be the first experience and how brands and channels deliver it!
ACE – Doing sales and offering experience of new products in the offline channel require footfalls. Are there ways brands can help retailers increase footballs, especially in tier I cities and metropolitan areas?
RP – The key to increasing footfalls in a store is in front of every brand and retailer. It’s just that they want to focus on complex things instead of simple ones. You are correct in saying that footfalls, in metropolitan areas, are going down. But why neglect the fact that large format stores and a lot of other retailers are doing better business now than they used to earlier.
Brands and retailers need to find out what’s working for them. Some of the most common things that never cease to work are building personal connections. Train your sales channel to make connections. Send your consumers texts on birthdays, anniversaries and every happy occasion. Similarly send them invites for trying out new products!
The ones that are doing great in terms of business despite all the competition have walked that extra mile. They are using technology and social media for connecting with consumers. Please note that some of these successful offline players do not push sales as a result of lowered prices, they are able to achieve great numbers because they are able to maintain great connections!
In a nutshell – brands and retailers who have not seen a drop in their sales figures are the one who have had repeat customers. The key always has been connections and technology!
ACE – How’s life after consumer electronics?
RP – I am not very far away from consumer electronics. In fact, I work for an organization that has its business model based on working with various telecom companies. It’s on the optic fibres, cables and accessories side.
This is an interesting and exciting opportunity as there’s a lot to learn. While the basic thread remains the same, the channel approach must be tweaked which gives me an opportunity to start afresh and think from the beginning. The industry is growing at a rapid rate and so are the opportunities associated with it.
Rahul Puri currently heads Sterlite Tech as sales head for India and APAC region.
Author – Mukul Yudhveer Singh.
An avid reader, Mukul finds peace in books and technology. He’s as passionate about writing as he is about cricket and Playstation. If not writing or reading, you will most likely find him drawing tattoo designs or analyzing political campaigns.